February 08, 2010

Is the American Dream Killing You?

This is the title of a book by a former corporate executive in Washington, DC, Paul Stiles, published in 2005. He finally threw in the towel and left the US, now lives in Spain and the Canary Islands. The book contains lots of "misery data" about life in the United States, but I particularly like it because he shares his own personal experience on why he finally decided to call it quits (actually, start a new, and very different, sort of life). As follows:

Someone, he writes, builds a gigantic house next door; after six months, you and your neighbor haven't even said hello. You walk into your local junior high (where his daughter was a student), and it looks like something out of hell: nose rings, boys showing their underwear, girls with T-shirts that say HO! on them, and others that sport MEGADEATH. Kids with hoods over headphones, with gangsta rap leaking through them: "All flowing past you in the hallways like sea wreckaage, all that is left after the ship goes down."

You then drop your daughter off, after hardly having spoken to her, and drive to work. On the way you see an electronic sign that broadcasts the latest Threat Level from Homeland Security. You reflect on the fact that the nation's capital used to have a crack user as a mayor, and that he later returned, elected to the city council.

Now you are in the CEO's office with the rest of the management team. "You are polite, of course, but...you know too much to respect the man who runs the corporation. You know he is out for himself, that he has formed a small cabal at the top to leverage the entire company for their own personal gain....The CEO makes over five hundred times what the average person in the company makes, but this is normal in America today, where the gap between rich and poor has grown steadily for thirty years, and is now the widest in all the rich democracies, on par with the third world."

After the meeting you walk through the company, acknowledge those you pass by, "but it is nothing but the nod between jousters. Office relationships are like business as a whole: pleasant on the surface, deadly underneath." Nothing makes sense, life's purpose eludes you, you can't trust anyone. The market economy has the power "to run your life, harm your health, fragment your family, dumb down society, destroy the environment, incite global conflict, and displace God himself."

Meanwhile, the incarceration rate has increased nearly 500% in the last 20 years, one-third of all marriages end in ten years or less, the rate of child abuse has tripled in the last 25 years, 65 million Americans suffer from stress, and between 1989 and 2001 credit card debt went from $238 billion to $692 billion and the number of people filing for bankruptcy jumped 125%. Nearly 2/3 of all Americans are overweight; the number of overweight adolescents tripled during 1980-2005. The US leads the industrialized world in child suicide (ages 5-14); the youth suicide rate has doubled since 1950.

We live in a winner-take-all society. "When competition becomes too intense, it separates people. Your society may start making market sense, but it stops making moral sense. You lose your connection to other people, and to anything larger than yourself. This cuts the very bonds that give life meaning. Bonds between the individual and his family, his community, his country, and even his God all erode and break. In short, the more intense the market experience, the more meaningless life will become."

The victims of US corporations, and the philosophy they represent, feel oppressed and exploited by America. This is "why they hate us." "You can understand why those most fervently opposed to living by the Market code--religious fundamentalists--would attack us. And you can understand why they would target the global system of American capitalism, the World Trade Center."

"Far from being an unlimited good, the Market has become the driving force of American decline."